Chapter Two: Are You There, Spirits? It's Me, Korra
Summary: While on the journey to the Southern Water Tribe to see if Katara can restore her bending, Korra finds that, unsurprisingly, Lin Beifong is the only one who really understands how it feels to be cut off from her bending. Korra also finds that Lin has suffered more than being "equalized". Pre-Linorra.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Pairings: Korra/Lin ("Linorra", "Korralin")
Author's Notes: This was spawned by a prompt for Linorra week. My muses decided that my "bloodstain" drabble-like thing was part of a multi-chapter fic.
Trigger warning: mention of interrogation torture.
That night, Korra had to literally beg Lin to sleep in bed with her, and it had still seemed like Lin was going to refuse until Korra began getting tears in her eyes and wept that she was still just as afraid and lonely as ever, and would Lin really hate sleeping near Korra so much? Lin had protested that her objections were for Korra's sake, and she just didn't feel comfortable being in the same bed as a seventeen-year-old.
"That excuse is getting really old really fast, Lin," Korra had protested. "I'm the seventeen-year-old girl in question, and I want to be near you."
So that was how Korra ended up curled up happily under the covers of the bed with Lin. Or at least, Lin was there; she was lying as close to the edge of the bed as possible.
"Korra, why are you bothering me incessantly and shunning everyone else? At first I thought it had something to do with both of us losing our bending, but now I'm puzzled."
Korra proceeded as if Lin had simply said "What?". "Remember when I was upset earlier today and you were sort of holding on to my head so I didn't feel like Amon still had me in his bloodbending grip?"
"Yes…let me guess, you want something similar now?"
"Please," Korra whispered.
Lin sighed. "All right. But if you wake up and elbow me in the face, I reserve the right to push you off the bed."
Korra grinned. "Fair enough."
Lin sat up; Korra looked up at her hopefully. "Turn onto your other side." Korra did, obligingly; she felt Lin move closer to her, pressing her front against Korra's back so they were snugly fitted together, not unlike the way Naga often curled up with Korra to sleep. Lin rested her chin on top of Korra's head and reached around to place her hand on Korra's forehead. "Better?"
"Mmmmmm," said Korra happily. "Much. You don't need to keep your hand on my face, though; I'm fine with your chin on my head."
Korra felt the light pressure of Lin's hand on her forehead leave, but Lin chose to let her arm fall behind her back instead of wrapping it around Korra. "Oh, for crying out loud, Lin…" Korra reached back to grab Lin's hand and move the captured arm to drape over her waist. "There we go."
"You're comfortable like this?" Lin sounded surprised.
"Mm-hmm. I like to cuddle."
Lin gave Korra a little squeeze; Korra made a sound of unrepentant glee, her bending loss momentarily forgotten. "It's a very well-kept secret, but so do I."
"This is cozy. And it feels good," Korra sighed. "Nothing can harm me, for I am cuddled by a Beifong," she intoned. She closed her eyes, savoring the warmth of Lin pressed against her back, the mingled softness and firmness of Lin's frame, the strong arm wrapped around her waist. I'm really not sure why I'm reacting like this to being with Lin, but I like it, Korra thought muzzily. It's so…soothing…
"Korra, you are beyond strange sometimes."
Korra knew something was wrong the moment she woke up.
She reached out in the darkness for Lin, but there was no one there; in a sleep-dulled panic, Korra scrambled around the bed, her searching hands finding only air. Out of habit, she tried to form a fireball to illuminate the room, and cried out in frustration when nothing happened. "Lin?"
There was no response, but Korra strained her ears into the silence; after a moment, she heard a muffled noise. It was human, but otherwise hard to identify, and coming from the floor on one side of the bed. Korra crawled to the edge of the bed; moonlight streamed in from the window, illuminating Lin's curled-up body on the floor. She was face down; Korra could tell that she was in a fetal position, but not much else. "Lin!" Korra got onto the floor beside the other woman. "Lin, are you okay?"
The words felt foolish leaving her mouth. Of course Lin wasn't "okay"; her eyes were shut tight and her hand was clamped over her mouth to muffle small cries of what sounded like pain. The moonlight cast an eerie bluish pall over her pale face and glinted off the tears leaking from her eyes. Driven by an impulse she couldn't fully explain but that consisted mostly of "make her feel better", Korra brushed Lin's hair back from her face. "Is it the…is it what the Equalists did?" Korra asked softly.
Lin nodded, her eyes still shut tight.
It didn't look like it was her back that was in pain, though; she was curled around herself in a way that reminded Korra of the way she folded up when she was suffering from monthly cramps. Korra noticed with a start that Lin was biting into her own hand to relieve the pain; Korra pried that hand away and squeezed. "Come on back into bed with me. You'll be more comfortable. It's okay. It's okay."
Korra figured that Lin had ended up on the floor because she didn't want Korra seeing her in pain. But that was moot now, so she helped Lin back onto the bed as carefully as she could. Lin climbed onto the mattress, looking bent and broken, then curled into a ball again, making a valiant attempt to stop crying. Korra ran her hands through Lin's hair and lightly touched her scarred cheek, hating the sight of Lin's beautiful face contorted with pain. "I know you're hurt. I won't judge you for crying. I mean, you should have seen me blubbering at Tenzin after Amon beat me that first time."
"S-spirits, it hurts," Lin gasped out.
"I've got you," Korra whispered, despite feeling completely powerless to stop her friend's suffering. "Squeeze my hand." Lin did, so hard Korra half-expected to hear her bones cracking, but Korra did not let go. "It's not your back, is it?"
Lin shook her head. Korra noted the way she was pressing her legs together, and her imagination flitted unbidden into thoughts of just how depraved the Equalists could be with their prisoners. Korra's lips framed a question, though the thought of a positive answer made her sick to her stomach. "Lin…were you…were you raped?"
"T-technic-cally, n-no." Lin's voice shook so hard Korra had trouble understanding her.
Korra swallowed. "What do you mean, 'technically'?"
"N-not by th-the letter of th-the law," Lin managed. "They j-just…sh-shocked me."
Korra felt as if a massive fist had closed around her stomach; had there been anything in it, she would have thrown up. "You mean…like…with one of those electrified gloves?"
Lin nodded, a sob escaping her lips at the memory.
"Oh, spirits…" Now holding both of Lin's hands, Korra lay down facing Lin so their foreheads were touching. "I'm so sorry." She wanted to ask why Lin had been subjected to such cruel and unusual torture, but clearly Lin didn't want to explain or couldn't really speak. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Cold water. P-please."
"Okay. I can do that." Korra got up and bolted from the room, and when she returned with a bucket of water and a cloth, Lin was still curled up and biting the flesh of her forearm so hard that she was drawing blood. "Please don't hurt yourself any more, Lin." Korra set down the bucket and cloth beside Lin; in a flash, Lin had sat up and doused the cloth in water. She flopped onto her back and pressed the wet cloth to the join of her legs, sighing as the water soaked through her thin cloth trousers and the pain was relieved, if only momentarily.
"I must look like such a fool," Lin mumbled. "I'm sorry…"
"Lin, you have no reason to apologize. It's okay. I'm just glad you're feeling better." Korra pushed Lin's sweat-damp hair off of her face again. "Why did they shock you? Just to be horrible?"
Lin shook her head. "They wanted to know where you were. They whipped me. I tried to mislead them. Gave false information."
"You told me that," Korra reminded her gently. Lin kept going as if Korra hadn't spoken.
"They told me if I was lying, they'd do much worse. I was lying. They did worse."
Korra's stomach had just begin to feel somewhat settled; now it was churning madly again. "So they tortured you for protecting me."
Lin had stopped trying not to cry, and tears flowed down the sides of her face, dampening the sheets. She was almost panting; the relief brought by the cold water hadn't lasted long. Korra hastily re-soaked the cloth and gently placed it back over Lin's most terrible injury. "Th-thank you. You don't have to do this."
"Yeah, I do." Korra lay down beside Lin and took both of her hands, and this time she kissed the back of each hand. "You're so brave. When you first yelled at me for messing up your city, I had no idea you'd one day be going through this to keep me safe."
"I couldn't protect you. Or Tenzin. Or the children. Oh, spirits, take the pain away…I'm sorry I failed…"
"Shhh, Lin, shhh," Korra murmured, shocked by the thought that Lin thought her suffering might be some kind of cosmic punishment because Amon had ended up capturing the airbenders and taking Korra's bending. She moved closer to cradle Lin's head against her chest; Lin reached for her weakly and they ended up tangled in a kind of embrace, though Lin tried to keep her lower body as still as possible. "It's okay." Korra pressed her face into Lin's soft hair. "It's okay, Lin, you beautiful, brave hero. I'll keep bringing you water if you need it. Try to sleep. It's okay. I've got you."
This time, Lin was still in Korra's arms when she woke, but she looked awful; her eyes were swollen and red-rimmed from crying the night before. Korra stroked her hair a little, but before long Korra's stomach started growling, and she carefully maneuvered herself off of the bed slowly enough that she wouldn't wake Lin. Korra thought she saw Lin reach out after Korra in her sleep, but it was probably wishful thinking or something of the like.
Korra crept out of her room and into the kitchen area, where Asami was heating water over a wooden stove. "Hey, Asami."
"Korra!" Asami's eyebrows shot up. Korra couldn't blame her; she hadn't left her room at all the previous day. "How are you feeling?"
"Better, thanks." Even cut off from her bending, Korra couldn't help but find herself driven by the impulse to help people, particularly ones she cared about, and right now Lin needed help. "A little hungry. Lin managed to pester me into eating a little yesterday, but it probably wasn't enough."
"The Chief lets you call her by her first name?"
"Yeah, we sort of…bonded. Because we both lost our bending and everything."
Asami nodded. "I was about to make some porridge. Would you like me to make some for you too?"
"Yeah…that's really nice of you, thanks. Actually, I wanted to ask…you had an herb garden at your, um, old house, right?" Korra felt proud of herself for not mentioning Asami's father. She'd always been rather tactless and she knew it—she was the avatar, so no one had bothered telling her off—but now was not the time for social blundering.
"Yes, it was a hobby of mine…how come?"
"Do you know any good herbs that can, um, relieve pain? It's Lin…she's really hurt. She won't tell me exactly how bad—she really hates letting anybody see her in pain—but the Equalists did something really awful to her."
Asami's brow furrowed. "Is she all right?"
"As all right as she can be, but don't ask about it; she'll just pretend everything's fine. She kept apologizing to me last night because I saw her crying."
Asami tilted her head to one side, thinking. "I know a couple of herbs…I'm not sure if we'd have any on the boat, but I'll check. And I'm not sure if the ones I'm thinking of would be better as a poultice or as an herbal tea. Let me check with Pema."
Korra wasn't sure about bringing Pema into the mix, but she nodded and went off to fetch Pema while Asami searched the kitchen.
Pema ended up deciding that the herbs Asami had been thinking of would be better as a poultice than a tea; Korra kept her mouth shut about that, although she was positive that anything that had to be directly applied to Lin's wounds would make everything between them much more awkward. (Lin would never allow Korra to help, even though Korra would want to; while Asami and Pema mixed the draught, Korra found herself thinking of ways to present the poultice to Lin without seeming like she was saying "Here's an excuse for me to put my hands all over you".) Asami, for her part, shot Korra a meaningful look when Pema asked why they were attempting this project, letting Korra explain. Korra took a deep breath, trying to choose her words carefully and hating her inability to speak eloquently. "It's the Chief. The Equalists did something…bad to her. She won't tell me what, but I know she's hurt. And since I can't heal anym—right now, I wanted to help."
Pema's brow furrowed. "You don't know what happened to her?"
"No, I only know she's hurt because I noticed when she thought I was asleep. I think she hates anybody seeing her…you know. Vulnerable. Um, I don't think anybody's ever going to know. I don't think she'll tell anybody." Shut up, Korra, she told herself. They get it. She was just praying that neither Pema nor Tenzin would end up bothering Lin about what had happened to her.
While Korra was distracted by thinking about a tactful way to offer the analgesic poultice to Lin, Asami and Pema finished it and Asami handed her the bowl with the completed mixture. "Oh—thanks. And I'm sure Lin will appreciate it too." Korra scampered off, hoping she was imagining Pema's eyes on her back.
Lin was still asleep, or at least pretending to be asleep. Korra went to the bedside and lightly touched Lin's hair. "Hey, Lin."
Lin stirred and blinked. "Korra…do you need something?"
"No, but I brought something for you." Korra indicated the bowl. "Asami helped me with it. It's a poultice. If you put it on the, um, whip…wounds…it will make them hurt less. Don't worry, I didn't tell her anything that happened to you. I said I didn't know."
Lin sat up, grimacing as her first movements of the day aggravated her injuries. "That was…thoughtful of you. Thank you."
"And I already know you don't want me to, you know, help with it. But I want to help with any of the…um…" Korra stumbled again, deciding she hated talking about Lin's injuries directly. "I figure you're pretty flexible, but I can probably reach your back better than you."
"Fine," said Lin dully, rubbing her eyes.
Note to self: if you want Lin to agree to something, make sure she's disoriented and sleepy, Korra thought. She climbed onto the bed; with her back to Korra, Lin pulled off her nightshirt. Korra carefully rested the bowl on the mattress and began stripping off Lin's bandages. They were only slightly bloodstained, to a small enough degree that they might not need to be changed. "How are you feeling?" Korra hazarded.
"Like a million yuan," said Lin sarcastically.
"But better than last night, I hope?" Korra pressed.
Lin sighed. "Yes…thank you."
"You're welcome." Korra dipped two fingertips into the poultice before realizing she had forgotten something. "Oh…it would probably be a good idea to wash the…um…yeah. I'll get some soap and water." Korra ran off, her cheeks aflame. She couldn't very well rub the poultice into Lin's whip wounds and then wash them, could she? Why was she so scatterbrained around Lin?
When Korra returned with a bowl of sudsy water and the cloth that had already sacrificed its blue color to Lin's bleeding back, Lin was still lying half-asleep in the bed, resting on her stomach so she wouldn't aggravate her wounded back. At least it's her back that's bothering her the most right now, Korra thought grimly. Lin hadn't noticed her coming, though, and didn't turn around when Korra entered the doorway. Korra hesitated. Something about the sight of Lin, half-undressed and injured, trying to get comfortable among the mussed bedsheets, held Korra's attention, but she felt a small pang of guilt for staring; she now knew exactly how much Lin hated being seen in any state of pain or discomfort. "Hey, Lin," Korra said gently as she edged closer to the bed and closed the door so nobody else could witness Lin being vulnerable. "Sorry, I…I guess I'm kind of scatterbrained today."
"It's fine," Lin replied flatly. She sat up, arms wrapped around herself to conceal her body from Korra's view.
"I guess you're still hiding from me?" Korra dipped the cloth into the soapy water, wrung it out, and began carefully dabbing and scrubbing the long, ugly whip weals; Lin flinched and tried in vain to hide the little involuntary twitch.
"Wouldn't you be a bit disturbed if I weren't 'hiding from you'? Is everyone in the Southern Water Tribe incredibly comfortable with their bodies these days or something?"
Korra ran the cloth over a particularly nasty-looking wound that crossed Lin's left shoulder blade. "No, just…I guess…I would hope that you were comfortable with…you know. Me."
"Well, I suppose there isn't much point in me attempting to have any privacy now. One of the ways Amon made an example of me was having his Equalists parade me around naked and whip me in front of the other prisoners. It was almost brilliant how demoralizing it was for the others, as much as I tried not to…react."
Korra felt tears stinging her eyes. "That's…that must have been awful."
"It was. Imagine knowing a fifth of Republic City had seen your bare ass."
Korra made a noise that had been a laugh when it started, but somehow got turned into a cry of surprise. "How can you joke about something like that?"
"It's either that or cry about it."
Korra rested her forehead against Lin's shoulder. "I hope one day I can be as brave as you."
Lin didn't say anything. Korra kept cleaning the whip wounds until she had covered each one. The last time she had washed Lin's injured back, she had adjusted to the sight of the wounds enough that they had stopped troubling her. This time she found herself trying to ignore them to bring on that effect more quickly; it wasn't working. All she could think of was how every cell in her brain was screaming for her to summon her waterbending healing and let her hands glide over Lin's injuries, stitching together the broken skin, the hideous inflamed pulsing red fading to the thin white of a scar, or better, gone forever…
Korra couldn't stand it anymore. She let her fingertips rest on the skin of Lin's shoulder blades and closed her eyes. Since she was such a miserable failure at meditating, Tenzin had never attempted to teach her how to actually contact spirit world. It would come with time when her meditation was deeper, he had said.
Are you there, spirits? Korra called out silently. Please help me. I need my healing back. She tried to remember the gut-wrenching sound of Lin's muffled sobs of pain. She tried to remember how powerless she had felt to help. Please let me heal my friend. She closed her eyes so tightly it hurt, straining so hard to project her thoughts into the spirit world that her teeth clenched.
"Korra…what are you doing?" Lin sounded puzzled.
Korra heaved a sigh. "The first thing I do when I get my bending back is going to be healing you."
"That's a kind thought, Korra, but…I think we should let Katara handle that."
"I might be young, but I'm a good healer!" Korra protested.
"You can heal my back, I suppose, if this is still about you needing to salve your conscience," said Lin heavily.
"I just want to make you feel better." Korra trailed her fingertips down Lin's sides as if just that small touch could make the wounds vanish. "I hate seeing your back all covered with…with whip marks like this…it's just…you're so beautiful; I don't understand how anyone could do this to you…"
Lin pulled away sharply, turning to glare over her shoulder at Korra. "The fact that I have a sense of humor does not mean I appreciate being mocked."
Korra blinked. "What are you talking about?"
"Do you really expect me to believe you actually find me beautiful?" Lin reached for her nightshirt.
"Oh, spirits, did I say that out loud? Lin, I'm sorry, it just kind of…slipped out…but yeah, I think you're beautiful! I think you're gorgeous."
Lin paused in the middle of putting her nightshirt back on. "Truly?"
"Yes!" Korra insisted. "I never really noticed before…before recently, but you have such a pretty face. And…a really nice back."
Lin sighed and held the nightshirt to her chest instead of pulling it over her head. "Forgive me. I'm used to having my seismic sense to help me discern when people are being truthful…and…I have grown to suspect ulterior motives when someone compliments me."
"Oh." Korra nodded knowingly. "People kissing up to the boss?"
"Sometimes," said Lin briefly. "Are you done with the cloth?"
"May I see it?"
The water had gone cold, but Korra handed Lin the cloth. She watched as Lin gave a cursory scrubbing to what Korra could only assume were whip marks on the front of her body.
"Did they whip your…your front too?"
"Just a bit. They were trying to come up with something exquisitely painful to punish me for giving them misleading information. They tried this before one of them decided to get creative with the electrified gloves."
Korra whimpered. "Can I..um…try the poultice now? On your back?"
"You may." Lin dropped the cloth back into its bowl and sloped her back forward slightly to make it easy for Korra to apply the medicinal mixture.
"I hope this helps." Korra dragged three fingers through the bowl of herbal poultice and cautiously applied the pale green-brown stuff down the length of the deepest scar.
Lin let out a long breath. "I think it does."
As quickly as she could while still being gentle, Korra applied the poultice to every centimeter of every whip wound. "Better?" Korra noticed that somehow her hands had ended up on Lin's waist.
"Yes. Thank you, Korra…you are very thoughtful." Lin retrieved her nightshirt and put it back on, forcing Korra to let go of her. Korra found herself feeling something like disappointment as the dark cloth of Lin's nightshirt fell into place over her previously exposed skin.
"I took care of my other injuries while you were getting the soap and water."
"Have you eaten yet?"
"No…but Asami was making porridge, and she might have left the ingredients out for me."
"We should both eat. I haven't been as good about eating as I have been about trying to make sure you eat. You go ahead; I have to change."
Korra nodded. She couldn't think of any way to hang around while Lin was changing her clothes without seeming creepy, so she walked back to the kitchen and found that Asami had not actually left the porridge ingredients out; instead, she had made a large portion of porridge and left it in a bowl for Korra.
"It would seem Asami knows you eat like a pubescent boy." Lin came up behind Korra. "Or else she's trying to tell you that you need to make up for your refusal to eat the past few days."
"Oh, come on, I do not eat that much," Korra countered. "She probably wanted to make enough for both of us." She looked over at Lin, who was wearing some kind of jungle green tunic that looked to be a very traditional Earth Kingdom style. "You look different without your armor."
"Many people don't recognize me unless I'm wearing it. I know, I look like a complete fool in civvies."
"What in the ass end of the spirit world is 'civvies?'" queried Korra, mystified.
Lin snickered at the expression. "Civilian clothes. Now stop avoiding the food." She searched through the cabinets for a serving spoon and a smaller bowl.
"Why are you so bent on making sure I eat? You care, don't you?"
"Of course I care. You're the avatar." Lin ladled some of the porridge into a bowl for herself.
"You never cared about me being the avatar before." Korra sighed. "And I'm not the avatar anymore."
"What did I tell you about saying that?" Lin reached out and squeezed Korra's shoulder. "Until the spirits tell you otherwise, they made the right choice with you."
"The spirits don't talk to me. Maybe they're ashamed." Korra folded her arms.
"Korra, listen." Lin paused to make sure she chose the right words. "I knew Avatar Aang well. He would be proud of you. And I'm sure if he could offer you some help and advice right now, he would."
Korra couldn't help but smile. "Thanks, Lin."
"You're welcome. Now eat your porridge." Lin walked off, stirring her porridge with a spoon.
Korra grinned to herself. "Yeah…she totally cares."
A/N: Sorry this is so late, but I'm a PhD student; what do you want from me?